Amid Appropriations Challenge, Net Neutrality Rules To Go Into Effect Friday

Update 4:30pm: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has denied the stay of FCC Title II reclassification.

By Elizabeth Holland

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new Open Internet Order will go into effect on Friday, June 12. That is, unless Congressional Republicans have something to do with it. Today, the Financial Services Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote an appropriations bill that would cut the FCC’s funding and block net neutrality rules from being implemented. If passed, the bill would act as a sort of legislative stay (likely, ex post facto), until the U.S. Court of Appeals weighs in.

From the House Appropriations Committee press release:

The bill contains $315 million for the FCC – a cut of $25 million below the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and $73 million below the request. The legislation prohibits the FCC from implementing net neutrality until certain court cases are resolved, requires newly proposed regulations to be made publicly available for 21 days before the Commission votes on them, and prohibits the FCC from regulating rates for either wireline or wireless Internet service.

Of course, the likelihood of such a partisan policy rider passing is incredibly slim. Subcommittee member Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) called the net neutrality caveat “excessive” and one that would make the bill unpassable from the Democratic view. Most of the additional funds requested, he pointed out, would enable to FCC to move to a new headquarters that Chairman Tom Wheeler has said will save money in the long-run. And because net neutrality rules don’t have their own line item, reducing funding for the FCC as a whole would jeopardize the agency’s ability to inform important functions like ensuring the 9-1-1 system, rural call completion, and preventing harmful interference to wireless communications.

Several Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed, have requested a judicial stay to delay the June 12 implementation of Title II regulations. The FCC has already rejected such a request. Both parties agree, however, that the court should expedite hearing of the underlying case if a stay is not granted.

AALL strongly opposes this House Appropriations subcommittee bill and urges full funding for the FCC. We believe a legislative solution to enshrine the FCC’s net neutrality rules would be less likely to be tested in court, would settle jurisdictional questions between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, and would bring finality to net neutrality rules. We urge Congress to take action to codify this important principle.

To learn more about law librarians’ stake in the net neutrality debate, join Government Relations Committee Chair Leslie Street and others in Philadelphia at Hot Topic: Net Neutrality and Law Librarians: It’s a Good Thing on Tuesday, July 21 at 11:00 am.

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